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Search-and-rescue Volunteers Under Increased Pressure

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Search-and-rescue Volunteers Under Increased Pressure

search rescue

Photo: Landsbjörg.

Members of the Icelandic volunteer search-and-rescue operation Landsbjörg have endured heavy strain this summer as the number of operations has increased substantially. As the flow of travellers into the country increases year by year, the rescue teams have to cope with different demands. Fatigue has started to set in and authorities are looking for a way to resolve the issue.

Landsbjörg comprises 18,000 volunteers whose task is to rescue and assist the population in emergency situations. They are world-class in a multitude of rescue operations such as mountain, glacial, wilderness and sea rescues. The country is split into 18 districts which local rescue squads patrol. Icelandic nature is an unstoppable force at times and the volunteers of Landsbjörg brave the elements. Their tasks are as varied as they are many. One day the members are rescuing a straggler from a glacial crevice and the next moment their assistance is required at the grand opening of Costco.

With the increased rise of tourism, an ever-increasing burden has been placed on Landsbjörg. The average yearly growth rate in the number of travellers to Iceland was 24.4% in the years 2010 to 2016. The sheer number of visitors to the country went from 488,600 in 2010 to the heady heights of 1,792,200. Even though the island is beautiful this pearl certainly has its perils. The riptide in the beautiful Reynisfjara claims victims each year and travellers find themselves stuck in dangerous situations in extreme condition in the highlands. Tryggvi Hjörtur Oddson, the foreman of the Árborg search and rescue team, stated in an interview with RÚV that Landsbjörg has now turned to preventive measures such as informing travellers to alleviate the pressure. We do ask that you stay safe on your travels.

Tryggvi Hjörtur added that there is a heavy strain on the volunteer force. The team members are having to leave their day jobs to assist with rescue operations. In the years past, the main bulk of the rescue work took place in the wintertime yet nowadays the rescue operations also take place in the summertime. Rescue operations were historically mainly rescuing hunters or fishermen in the wintertime while nowadays the rescues are of a different kind. In recent weeks, the team members in the south of Iceland have assisted with a search for a body that fell into Gullfoss as well as sending out search operations to rescue hikers that were lost near Emstruskáli. A large team from Landsbjörg also assisted scout troops when an unfortunate case of the Noro virus spread like wildfire amidst the scout ranks. As it now stands Landsbjörg finances their operations with funding from the state as well as donations from the public.

Historically their operations have been varied as they handle all matters that vary from the extreme to the casual. Landsbjörg assists fishermen lost at sea as well as tracking down flying trampolines when gales hit downtown Reykjavík. As of now, it is unclear who bears responsibility for the safety and well-being of travellers in Iceland, as the director of the Icelandic Association of Search and Rescue recently stated here. It is clear that assistance is needed for the volunteers as the number of tasks they are entrusted with increases each year.

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